Pop Quiz: The Day I Made Someone’s Mom Activate Their Rage-Crystal
I got myself into a little bit of trouble in school recently. It wasn’t my fault though, it was because of the magic crystals.
I was taking a class full of lovely, enthusiastic children aged twelve and thirteen. They’re one of my favourite classes and I genuinely look forward to working with them each day. We had just read Shirley Jackson’s The Lottery (check out DrShell’s excellent Lesson Plan) and we were discussing superstitions. One young man raised his hand and told us that his mum was really into healing crystals. He clearly thought that the whole idea was quite silly and he made a few light jokes at his mum’s expense. Some of the class had never heard of healing crystals before and so we had a bit of a discussion about them. I framed it in a “here’s another example of a superstition” kind of way and I made it clear that while some people believed in it, I didn’t. I’d already told them that I wasn’t a superstitious person at all.
The topic of discussion changed, the lesson moved on, and I didn’t think about it at all. Until the next morning, that is.
Almost as soon as I arrived at work, I was summoned to my department head’s room. The boy had mentioned our class discussion to his mum and she had phoned up to complain about what I’d said. She felt that I’d undermined her beliefs and made her look foolish in front of her son. She argued that I’d had no right to comment upon her beliefs and she wanted an apology. I was shocked and mortified because I hadn’t given the conversation a second thought after the class ended. I had no idea that I’d made someone so angry that they’d want to phone up to complain about me personally.
I offered the apology and walked away from the situation with a slapped wrist and a bit of a bruised ego. I hadn’t been brutally frank in my crystal healing discussion but I hadn’t been overly kind either. As far as I was concerned I’d made the point that I viewed it as something that some people chose to believe but that I didn’t.
Of course, maybe I’m remembering the discussion inaccurately. Many of you with similar sceptical world views will know what it’s like when a topic like this rears its head in discussion; it can be easy to become quite opinionated quite quickly. I don’t think that I acted that way in front of my class, but maybe I did and didn’t realise it.
It made me think, however. In this parent’s view I had undermined one of her closely-held beliefs in front of her son and his peers. She viewed my role as an English teacher as one where I would improve her son’s reading, writing and communication skills but not as one where I would make him question things like this. As a teacher who is heavily interested in scepticism, I don’t quite see it like that. I feel like it is my job to help my pupils to question the world around them, but I also know that educators often walk a fine line when it comes to avoiding parental conflict.
My Pop Quiz questions to you are:
What would you have done in the initial discussion? Would you have dissected the idea of crystal healing more forcefully? Would you have avoided the issue entirely, given that the boy did say that his mum held those beliefs?
Should we, as educators, have the right to questions things like this when they originate from a pupil’s home? Does the promotion of critical thinking become the responsibility of all of us, regardless of subject area? *
Just how stupid IS crystal healing, anyway?
* DrShell’s recent post on morality in teaching kind of touches on this area too. She mentions that she feels quite happy about challenging the beliefs of her university students because that’s what they should expect in that kind of educational setting. I completely agree with her, but I wonder – does the same thing apply in high school? There’s quite a difference between students who are essentially fully-functional adults and children who are still very often highly influenced by their parents.
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